The Changing City: How Lagos became a major player in the global community

The Changing City: How Lagos became a major player in the global community


Logos in Time


Modern day Lagos; previously known as ‘Eko’ (“war camp”) is said to have been founded by its Bini Conquerors. According to a UN Habitat publication (2006), ‘Portuguese traders visited the area in 1472 and soon after began trading in goods and slaves, naming the area around the city Lagos, meaning lakes.’

Later, post British colonial rule saw the establishment of the Dependency and AssociatedState of Nigeria in 1914, of which Lagos was declared the capital. During the 1960s-70s, as the capital, Lagos experienced rapid economic growth. This continued through to the late 1990s and to present day.

In 1991, the then military president moved to a newly purpose built capital and as a result, Lagos lost some of its esteem. Nevertheless, it has retained its importance as the largest city and economic state in Nigeria.

Today, Lagos has become a major player in the global community. How did the former British colonial state become so influential?



Lagos, along with Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu and Ikeja, are Nigeria’s main urban centres. The urbanisation process that has taken place in Lagos has been of such significance in the State and in Nigeria as a whole that it should receive special attention.

As a result of its colonisation by Britain, Lagos represents most spectacularly one of those classes of Nigerian cities whose growth and development have been significantly contoured by western influences. Starting from small settlements made by the Awori (a subgroup of the Yorubas), first at EbuteMetta and later at Iddo, most likely in the early 17th century, the settlement of Lagos existed rather quietly up to the end of the 18th century.

It’s a city that confounds and amazes due to its striking contrasts…

Lagos is rapidly becoming Africa’s largest city attaining MegaCity status in 1995 as a result of its population surpassing 10 million. The population of Lagos is estimated to reach 24.6 million by 2015, overtaking the Egyptian capital Cairo as Africa’s biggest city. According to UN Habitat’s State of African Cities report (2010), the number of people living in African cities will triple over the next 40 years to about 1.23 billion people and by then (2050), 60% of Africans will be city dwellers.

Currently, LagosState currently has a population of about 18.5 million and this surge brings it ever closer to being a global contender. It is a city that confounds and amazes due to its striking contrast between the wealthy and the poor members of the population.

The population in Lagos has been said to have a density of 1,305 persons per square kilometre and has already far exceeded the national estimates of 85 persons per square kilometre.

By the 1980’s, over 40 slums covering over 1,600 hectares were officially recognised on the state’s records. Unsurprisingly that figure rose rapidly to over 60 slums in 1995 and then over 100 by 2003 with the addition of fringe towns.

With floating slums like Makoko on the fringes of the city, Lagos certainly lives up to the controversy surrounding modern megacities. With many of these fringe towns being outside of the reach of normal authority, people tend to form their own policing methods.

1.3 Economic Status

Lagos is the commercial and industrial hub of Nigeria, with a Gross National Product three times that of any other West African country. Lagos has largely benefited due to natural resources in oil, natural gas, coal, fuel wood and water Nigeria has. Light industry was prevalent in post-independence Nigeria and petroleum-related industry dominated in the 1970’s, directly affecting the express growth Lagos has experienced.


The 1950’s saw the start of the oil industry, which increased seven-fold between 1965 and 1973, while oil prices around the world skyrocketed. By 1978, the metropolitan area accounted for 40% of the external trade of Nigeria, containing 40% of the national skilled population. The global recession in 1981, which caused a sharp fall in oil prices, sent Lagos reeling into debt and runaway inflation that still is a problem today. Consequently, a massive programme of infrastructure and social services expansion came to an abrupt halt.

Developments in energy and water access, sewerage, transportation and housing were all adversely affected by the chaotic development of a geographically displaced city.

In addition, the democratic changes in government policy have helped to catapult the city’s economic growth. Previously officials we not very readily held to account for their actions and the real potential of the city was not recognized. Officials can now be more easily held to account for corrupt behavior. Even though Nigeria is notorious for fraud and corruption, the changes in the past 10-15 years have contributed positively to the city’s status.

Independent investors viewed these changes as cause to improve local services such as investing in private education and healthcare, though there is still tremendous work to be done.

Because of the huge demands on the cities resources such as its energy supply, problems with social infrastructure are more obvious, nevertheless, with a growing population, there will be growing demands on the supply of goods and services, and this will positively affect the economy.

Major Problems


As mentioned above, Lagos is the most populous city in Nigeria. The unplanned growth of the population has it itself created a magnitude of problems. Lagos has more employment and educational opportunities than surrounding cities, so attracting thousands more people every day is a feasible concept. With space rapidly becoming an issue, accommodation prices sky rocket and become unreachable to the majority. As a result of this, slum type habitation becomes the norm.

Canoed walkways like the one pictured above in Makoko, a growing slum in Lagos are typical around the city. Many of the residents there are fishermen attracted by job prospects of the big city because of its oil rich history.

Two out of three Lagos residents live in a slum with no reliable access to clean drinking water, electricity, waste disposal – even roads. With the number of people entering Lagos every day, the problems associated with slum living will undoubtedly continue to increase.

The city also has another problem. Because its shores are being constantly eroded, the inhabitants both old and the ones to come are ever losing precious land. Construction plans are underway to expand the city with constant supplies of water and electricity.


The economy of Lagos state is thought to be worth around $33bn, despite the habitual overcrowding, crumbling infrastructure and hellish traffic. As a result of said overcrowding, slums like the one mentioned above continue to grow. Government provided services like healthcare, education and police are not staples in these areas. The absence of the law supports the rise of Area Boys, who police their territory with threats and often violence. In addition, bribes and corruption have become common place.

Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. After its independence during the 1960s, billions of dollars of Nigeria’s oil revenue have been siphoned from state and government coffers by the actions of the country’s rulers. As a result of this widespread corruption and lack of enforced laws, the country’s economy does not reflect its true potential.

Elections of officials are more regulated and checked, so there is improvement in the system but with the city so far behind its mega city colleagues, there is still a long way to go.

2.3 Social Structure

Despite the huge numbers of people flocking to the city, large proportion of people in Lagos still live in rural areas. Family life is still an important aspect of African culture. Families however continually get separated due to elders migrating to the city for work. The migrants are often unsuccessful in their attempt at financial prosperity, but are too ashamed to return to their rural lives, and therefore continue to contribute to the problems surrounding Lagos’s MegaCity status.

Other city linked attachments such as a functioning transport systems, healthcare, education are erratic at best in their availability within Lagos. In the late 90s, the education system did turn out a significant number of graduates. High paying jobs require decent standards of education for hiring, but since most people who come to the city are from rural areas, those jobs are not usually accessible to them.

The transport system in Lagos is woefully inadequate to deal with the demands of its mega city status. The bus rapid transit (BRT) system has made a start towards tackling these problems. Since its inception three years ago, the BRT between Mile 12 and CMS stations has transported 170 million passengers and reduced travel times by 30 minutes according to reports.

A bright future?

With constantly changing dynamics in population, economy and social structure, LagosNigeria will undoubtedly continue to change and develop. As demonstrated above, these changes while bringing Lagos to the forefront as a MegaCity, have brought along its own set of problems.

The growing population; while bringing along problems like overcrowding and slum villages like Makoko, the surge in the city’s inhabitants help to sustain and cultivate Lagos’s reputation as a major economic world city.

Slum alleviation projects and major regeneration to infrastructure continue to take place. The future could indeed be bright for the complex and contrasting city, if its leaders operate to its benefit rather than to its determent.


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